Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Child's Play


So, I have to start another review with a confession that undermines my horror credentials... I've never seen a Child's Play film, or I hadn't until recently. I remember some of the controversy in the media when I was a kid but by the time I reached the age to watch any of the franchise the concept of a killer doll just sounded a bit silly. I had also grown up around lots of great parodies such as the brilliant Simpsons Tree House of Horror episode. Whatever the reason was, I just never really cared about watching them.

I thought it was probably about time I corrected this and sat down to watch the original 1988 movie directed by Tom Holland based on a story by Don Mancini. So for anyone who doesn't already know the gist of Child's Play it is the story of Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), a serial killer who in the opening of the film is shot by police before finding refuge in a toy store. In his dying moments he clutches on to an over-sized doll and recites an incantation (accompanied by thunder and lightning which manages to smash a skylight... Of course). He passes away swearing revenge on the policeman who shot him and his partners in crime who betrayed him and left him to die.

There's your problem.
Somebody set this thing to Evil.
We are then introduced to Andy (Alex Vincent) and his single mum Karen (Catherine Hicks) on Andy's birthday. He is desperately hoping for a doll of his favorite cartoon character 'Good Guy' but as with all toy crazes, that shit don't come cheap and a single mother working a perfume counter can only pray to afford that much of her sons happiness. Her prayers are answered in the form of a hobo pedaling his dodgy wares in the alley behind her workplace, she buys a slightly dirty looking Good Guy doll and takes it home for her son. Now it doesn't take an insightful genius to work out that this doll may just happen to be the one which was the subject of Charles Lee's earlier incantation, and things start taking a dark and violent direction as he attempts to take out his earlier sworn upon vengeance from beyond the grave.

Chucky is an icon of horror history and whether having seen the films or not, most people recognise him and probably know the story, or at least the bare-bones of it. As story-lines go it hold no surprises, given the premise it is easily possible to predict the entirety of the film almost scene for scene. It doesn't seem like it was ahead of it's time at all and the story is very cliched, but still fun.

From a modern perspective Child's Play suffers from one serious case of the 1980's. The lighting and colouring is all very flat. At one point it felt so clean cut it's was a bit like watching a grown up version of Jingle All the Way. A lot of the sets feel very staged and one of the only major stunts feels so badly crow-barred in with obvious stunt performers I felt like I was watching the deaf stuntman sketch from the Fast Show. 

The darker turns do feel satisfying as Brad Dourif can be heard gargling on the scenery. When he drops into some of the more obscene language and insults it can feel quite shocking and that's where Child's Play's strengths lie. The puppetry and Chucky costumes are really quite brilliant, and his gradual fade from a clean and child friendly toy to a dirty balding mess of possessed plastic is extremely well executed. It's just hard to take the more physical moments seriously when people are tackling a two foot tall doll with  funny little limbs flapping about everywhere. 
What has Hollywood
got against Eddies?

I wanted Child's Play to spend more time getting in my head and less trying piling on the action. The first half of the film plays with the 'is it Chucky is it Andy' idea but soon drops that by the wayside. It doesn't quite know if it wants to be a black horror comedy or manage to actually do something really dark with the idea of a killer child's toy. It starts to build a relationship between Andy and Chucky that can be very well manipulated but then descends into explosions and cliched Hollywood bad guys (why are they always called Eddie?).

Chris Sarandon is a definite acting highlight as the unflappable Detective Norris. He hardly ever takes his hands out if his pockets and struggles to muster up enough energy to move, even in the most pivotal moments. It's a brilliant portrayal of a world weary policeman that is full of effortless charm. At times Alex Vincent's portrayal of Andy seems to owe a debt to The Shining and as child actors go he is pretty impressive. He is able to portray genuine fear brilliantly and even at times stumbles and falls over the scenery, not once shaken from the scripted task at hand.

Child's Play doesn't seen to be the must-see horror classic it is held up to be but I will be watching the rest of the franchise to see where they take it for sure. By the sounds of Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky things are heading towards the ridiculous. 

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